Fayette physical therapy student presents research at national conference

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Allison Robinson, a student in the two-year Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, presented undergraduate research under the supervision of Stacy Sekely, associate teaching professor of PTA.

Robinson and Sekely virtually presented their poster, “Influences on Students’ Decisions to Pursue a Physical Therapist Assistant Career,” at the American Physical Therapy Association Combined Sections (APT CSM) meeting in February.

“It was truly great working with Professor Sekely on this research,” said Robinson. “We found four influences that stood out as statistically significant — including barriers to admission and lack of access to other healthcare programs, socioeconomic background, first-generation college student status, and the point in life when the student made the decision to pursue PTA.”

Robinson’s and Sekely’s research also found that 69% of PTA student respondents from minority groups decided to pursue a career in the field after admission to college or after at least six months of full-time work experience, suggesting that PTA program outreach should include adult and other non-traditional student populations.

In addition, over half of PTA student respondents rated their personal experiences with physical therapy as very important factors in their career decision, indicating that clinicians may play a significant role in encouraging prospective students.

“Understanding factors that most influence students’ decisions to pursue a PTA career may help programs better recruit students from diverse backgrounds,” said Sekely. “For example, in this survey, students that identified as Black, African American and Hispanic/Latino were almost twice as likely as white and non-Hispanic/Latino students to report that exposure to the career through a school-related activity was a very important factor in the decision-making process. PTA programs may consider enhancing outreach to local high schools to promote meaningful career exploration experiences.”

Robinson, a graduate of Musselman High School in Gerrardstown, West Virginia, holds a bachelor of science degree in exercise physiology from West Virginia University. After her graduation from Penn State Fayette in 2021, she hopes to begin practicing as a physical therapist assistant.